Former competitor explains Plan Bee

Courtesy Amy Goldstein

Amy Goldstein, No. 143 back in 1998, says she catches up with old acquaintances from bees gone by every year right around this time.

Amy Goldstein could have fished all day long and she still wouldn't have landed any clues about how to spell the word "aitch."

Still, the fourth-place finisher at the 1998 Scripps National Spelling Bee has been hooked -- with a capital aitch -- on the annual event ever since.

Ahead of the bee's final day Thursday (10 a.m. on ESPN2 and 8 p.m. on ESPN), Goldstein, a copy editor for ESPN.com, explains the strategy the young spellers can use to deliver the right letters in the right order after they've been given a word they've never seen, heard or dreamed of before.

Hannah Worster/ESPN

Amy Goldstein has been a copy editor for ESPN.com since 2008.

So step up to the mike. Here comes "epipelagic." You've got two minutes. Go.

Step 1: "May I have the definition?" If it's a word spellers have never heard before (which is often the case), it's probably best to start here. Sometimes, words within the definition can provide clues that will be helpful later on in the process. In this case, epipelagic means "of, relating to, or constituting the part of the oceanic zone into which enough light for photosynthesis penetrates." Hmmm ... let's just bank it for now.

Step 2: "Are there any alternate pronunciations?" Hey, you never know, sometimes a word that sounds strange one way could be easily exposed with a different pronunciation. No dice? OK. Onto the next ...

Step 3: "What's the language of origin?" The answer to this question can help spellers crack the code on a couple of fronts. For one, it can determine which letters -- ph or f, for example -- are making the middle sounds in a word like logophobia (the fear of words). The language of origin also can help spellers break an intimidating and unmanageable word down to its root words. So, back to the case of "epipelagic," once we know it's a Greek word, we can move on to the next step.

Step 4: Confirm the root words. It's best to do a little reset here and try to get as much information as possible from the judges. In the case of epipelagic, spellers can ask, "epi-, meaning around?" and "pelagos, meaning sea?" When the judges give the thumbs up, spellers know they're getting close to solving the mystery. But the clock's ticking.

Step 5: "What's the part of speech?" Epipelagic, the judges say, is an adjective. Well isn't that majestic! Because adjectives frequently end in "-ic," we have officially landed our suffix.

Step 6: "Can you use the word in a sentence?" If you still don't have it yet, hearing the word in a sentence can help you visualize the word in context. "If you just picture the words around it, sometimes the right letters come into your mind," Goldstein said.

Step 7: Let 'er rip. One at a time now, along with Goldstein: e-p-i-p-e-l-a-g-i-c. Epipelagic!

Now onto the next round. Goldstein is right there with you.

"I play along," Goldstein said of her annual bee viewing habits. "It brings back good memories. I enjoy the challenge every year of trying to get the words right."

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